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Penn State-Temple Game Preview

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Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State and Temple both look to gain bowl eligibility in the in-state clash.

Penn State (5-4, 2-4) vs. Temple (5-4)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Line: Penn State -7

TV: ESPN2 Beth Mowins (play-by-play), Joey Galloway (analyst) Paul Carcaterra (sideline)

Weather: Chilly and clear, with temperatures hovering around freezing for kickoff.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 5-4, 1st Year

OVERALL RECORD: 29-19, 4th Year

VS. TEMPLE: 0-0

Matt Rhule:

TEMPLE RECORD: 7-14, 2nd Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-0

...NOW THE FUN PART

TEMPLE OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
The Temple Owls have a similar makeup as Penn State- they have a 5-4 record thanks to a stingy defense and a lackluster offense. The Owls offense produces more in the air than the ground, but not by much. Sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker has completed just 54.4 percent of passes on the season, and has nearly as many interceptions (10) as touchdown passes (11). While he possesses decent mobility, he's more of an undersized pocket passer at 6-1 and 200 pounds. Walker started the season strong in the non-conference schedule, but has hit a snag recently. In the past five games, Walker has exceeded a 50 percent completion rate in just one contest, and that was a game where he connected on 15 of 28 passes for just 111 yards in a 34-14 loss to Central Florida. Add in the fact he'll be facing the third-best pass defense in the nation and could be without Temple's leading receiver (senior Jalen Fitzpatrick is a game-time decision as he recovers from a leg injury), and things may turn ugly for Walker in a hurry on Saturday.

If Fitzpatrick can't go, the Owls don't have much to work with in the receiving corps. The team's second leading receiver is sophomore running back Jahad Thomas, who has only 10 receptions on the season. Thomas is a playmaker out of the backfield however, so even just a few receptions for big gains could make a huge difference in what should be a low-scoring affair.

Temple's run attack isn't much better than Penn State's- the Owls average 118.8 yards per game on the ground, good for 108th nationally. In fact, the sole reason the Owls have a winning record at this point is that they have scored nine non-offensive touchdowns in nine game (we'll get to that later).  Thomas is the team's leading rusher with 371 yards on the season and a respectable 5.2 yards per carry. Senior Kenneth Harper may wind up with the majority of the carries on Saturday as he is coming off of a 116-yard performance against Memphis in week 10.

Penn State's defensive gameplan should be fairly simple against the Owls- shut down the running game, then pressure Walker into making mistakes.

TEMPLE DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE
It's no secret the Penn State offense struggles to put up points, and that trend should continue on Saturday. The Owls defense allows just 18.1 points per game, good for 10th in the nation. What makes this defense especially dangerous is their knack for creating turnovers. In just nine games, the Owls have recovered 17 fumbles and eight interceptions, including four fumble recoveries for touchdowns and two pick-sixes. In a way, Temple's defense IS its offense.

Temple has a pedestrian run defense, but that will likely be good enough to mostly halt Penn State's rushing attack. However, there may be some hope for the Nittany Lions if Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith are finally able to play side-by-side. Add in tight end Jesse James, and Penn State just may find success running to the left side. The Owls are more stingy against the pass, allowing just over 200 yards per game in the air. With their tendency to create turnovers, Christian Hackenberg could end up with multiple interceptions if he isn't careful with the ball.  Considering that this defense has a nose for the end zone, another pick-six this week could be the catalyst for an Owls victory.

Defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike (which is a serious contender for best name in college football) leads Temple with 5.5 sacks on the season, and should add to that total on Saturday.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Temple has a unique return-by-committee approach, which surprisingly very effective. Penn State must find a way not to allow a major return- again, one big play could result in a Temple victory in what has the potential to be a very low-scoring affair. Penn State freshman Daniel Pasquariello seems to have secured the role as the team's punter following a solid outing against Indiana. It will be especially important for him to get some hangtime this week.

Freshman kicker Austin Jones has connected on eight of 13 field goal attempts with a long of 47. Punter Alex Starzyk averages 38.6 yards per kick, but does a tremendous job of getting the ball inside the 20.

PREDICTION

PENN STATE-10 Temple-9
This game has the potential to somehow possess even less offense than Penn State' 13-7 win at Indiana. The Nittany Lions defense should have no problem shutting down Temple's offense, collecting a smattering of tackles for loss, three-and-outs and a few turnovers for good measure. It has a great chance to be a dominating performance where the Owls have little luck moving the ball.

Unfortunately, the same may be true for the Nittany Lions offense. The key will be to limit turnovers and find a way to sustain a few drives so the defense can get some rest.

The scariest thing about Temple is their ability to show up for big games. The Owls upset a ranked East Carolina team in week nine, and would have pulled off an astounding upset last season against eventual Sugar Bowl champs Central Florida if not for the wizardry of current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. You better believe Temple will be fired up for this game. Much like Rutgers and Maryland, this will be their best chance in a long time to defeat Penn State, and will fight tooth and nail not to squander that opportunity.

In the end, I'll trust the Nittany Lions defense to once again to do enough to carry the team to victory. A fourth quarter field goal by Sam Ficken is the difference as Penn State ekes out an ugly win against Temple.